Not for the first time this season, a late Jude Bellingham goal earned Real Madrid victory. It was far from pretty as Los Blancos struggled to break down a well-organised Union Berlin defence in their Champions League opener, but a late corner led to some penalty box pinball and the Englishman’s sixth goal in six games. The 1-0 win brings three points, but it also brings a lot of questions and they’re discussed below.
1. Could Real Madrid stop leaking early goals?
This was an early kick-off, starting at 18:45 local time, and Real Madrid had an objective in mind which was to still have a clean sheet by 19:00. In their previous four matches they’d conceded in the third minute vs Almería, in the third minute vs RC, though that was disallowed, in the 11th minute vs Getafe and in the fifth minute vs Real Sociedad. “We need to stop starting games 0-1 down,” Ancelotti said after the comeback win vs Real Sociedad on Sunday. And, here they managed to do so. Sure, Kepa had to make a couple of interventions in the opening minutes, but Real Madrid made it through the opening 15 minutes without conceding, for a change. The problem wasn’t in defence today. It was at the other end...
2. Could the Champions League end Rodrygo’s mini drought?
It hadn’t been the best start to the season for Rodrygo, who came into this one without a goal or assist since he opened the scoring in the opening game of the season away at Athletic Club. Could the return of his favourite competition, the Champions League, settle him down and end his scoring drought? We know that Rodrygo is statistically 2.8 times more likely to score in a Champions League fixture than in a LaLiga fixture. But, he couldn’t tonight. As has been the case in the last few games, Rodrygo was lively once more and came very close on back-to-back chances at the start of the second half. But, it just isn’t falling for him right now.
3. Could Modrić make the most of his start?
Ancelotti announced already in the pre-match press conference that Luka Modrić was going to start this game, just his second start of the campaign after also being in from off against Getafe. So, would the Croatian seize the opportunity? Yes, he did. Even though he couldn’t inspire the team to a breakthrough goal during his time on the pitch, Modrić oozed excellence during his 81 minutes. The lack of bite in the attacking third certainly wasn’t the veteran’s fault, as he played five key passes in the game and came close to scoring with a long-range blast that Ronnow had to do very well to save. Modrić did all he could to make the case for more minutes. The problem is simply that the Real Madrid midfield is stacked.
1. Will the fans remain patient with Joselu?
This was Joselu’s Champions League debut, but it didn’t go as he’d have hoped. The centre-forward hit 11 shots in the game, five of them on target, but it just wasn’t falling. He rattled the woodwork and had one shot that whistled just past the outside of the post. It wasn’t his day. You could tell he was frustrated and the fans were too, but you have to hope the fanbase remains patient with him. Joselu isn’t Benzema, not even close, but that’s not his fault. He’ll score a lot of important goals for Real Madrid this season, as he already has been doing in the past couple of games.
2. Does Brahim deserve more minutes?
Given the struggles mentioned above in the sections about Rodrygo and Joselu, is there an argument to be made that Brahim deserves more minutes? Every time he has come on he has looked lively, and this might have been the perfect game for him to start, but Ancelotti left the Spaniard out once more and didn’t bring him on until the 81st minute. He was in the right place at the right time for the goal, which could just as easily have been turned in by Brahim instead of Bellingham, and that might have changed the narrative around Brahim had it been scored by him. It seems that right now he still far down Ancelotti’s depth chart.
3. Have Real Madrid ended the ‘early kick-off curse’?
We can probably say now that Real Madrid have ended the ‘early kick-off curse’ in the Champions League. After the decision to break Champions League group stage nights into two time slots back in 2018, Real Madrid lost three and drew one of their first four matches in the early Champions League kick-off slot. But, now they’ve won their past three 18:45 kick-offs in this competition, 2-1 vs Shakhtar Donetsk in 2021, 5-1 vs Celtic in 2022 and now 1-0 vs Union Berlin in 2023. This one wasn’t pretty, but getting off to a winning start in the Champions League is priceless.